Romney should demystify presidency

September 20, 2012


— Washington — In every year divisible by four, the dominant superstition of American politics — faith in the magic of presidential words and deeds — reaches an apogee that feeds national narcissism: Everything that happens anywhere is about us, is a response to something America did or did not do, and can be controlled by a president doing — even just saying — something.

This self-absorption was evident as Mitt Romney and the Obama administration sparred about violence directed at U.S. facilities in the Middle East and elsewhere. Romney called this the fruit of administration weakness; the administration blamed it on a video. It would require exquisitely precise intellectual calipers to gauge which idea is silliest.

In Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, the crumbling of old regimes and hierarchies has ignited complex sectarian and tribal power struggles, in which some participants find anti-Americanism useful. None of the people involved — some cunning, some deranged — take their cues from utterances by America’s president. So it was passing strange for Rich Williamson, former assistant secretary of state and current Romney adviser, to say, regarding the Egypt and Libya attacks, “There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation.”  

Childlike credulity about presidents’ abilities to subdue turbulent portions of the world by projecting “strength,” or to “manage” the domestic economy, encourages political infantilism. This manifests itself in people seeking in public figures attributes pertinent only to private life.

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll asked respondents to say which presidential candidate “would you prefer to have take care of you if you were sick” and which “would you rather invite to dinner at your home.” What is depressing about these questions is not that they miss the point of presidential elections nowadays but that they seem to touch the electorate’s erogenous zones.

“Tell me your troubles,” urged President Franklin Roosevelt in a broadcast fireside chat. But the idea of the president as Consoler in Chief and master of the bedside manner was unique to FDR until the 1990s. Then a nation with few pains had a president who promised to feel them.

Imagine, if you can, wanting Dwight Eisenhower at your bedside. Or imagine him, who had seen serious pain, pretending to feel others’. Did anyone in 1952 ask voters whether they would prefer to have Eisenhower or Adlai Stevenson come to dinner? The nation liked Ike but hired him not for the pleasure of his company but to have him see that the laws were faithfully executed and to preserve the peace, which he did.

An attractive aspect of Romney as a candidate is how endearingly unsuited he is to politics in an era when “friend” has become a verb. Would that he could just say this:

“I am not running to be your friend, because I hope you pick your friends from among people you actually know and for reasons unrelated to politics. And I will not insult your intelligence by claiming to feel your pain, which really is yours. Neither will I tell you that as president I would pacify distant mobs. I am running just to make government somewhat less destructive, to partially ameliorate the country’s largest afflictions, and to make the world a bit less dangerous.

“My candidacy comes down to an eight-word question, and it is not ‘Will you call me about your tummy ache?’ Rather, it is: ‘Is this really the best we can do?’ It is difficult to prevent Americans from briskly creating wealth, but bad choices by both parties have done so. My opponent is making many promises, although a simple apology would suffice. My promise is that although I will not really create millions of jobs, I will, if Congress cooperates, remove some of the obstacles to your doing so.

“If you want a president who is the center of a government-centered society, pick the other fellow. If you endorse a dependency agenda — more and more people dependent in more and more ways on a government fewer and fewer are paying for — vote for the other party. If you do not share my opponent’s horror about being mostly on your own in the pursuit of happiness that you define on your own, give me a try. If it doesn’t work out, you can fire me in four years.”

Someday, someone is going to seek the presidency by demystifying it. Many voters will be astonished by, and even be grateful for, the novelty of being addressed as adults.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.    


kernal 1 year, 6 months ago

So Romney finally released copies of his 2011 tax returns. Big deal. He can still amend and refile those returns next year to take those deductions he purposely left out this year. That will significantly reduce his tax debt and give him a nice refund. Don't think for minute he won't. He didn't get wealthy by his ethics.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 6 months ago

We broadcast from just outside a Freeport, Illinois, factory owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm co-founded by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Workers at Sensata Technologies have set up an encampment called "Bainport" across the street from the facility to protest the company’s plan to close the plant and move it to China, taking 170 jobs with it. The workers have been trying to get Romney to save their jobs.

We’re joined by two Sensata workers — Mark Schreck and Tom Gaulrapp — and Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp, who has supported the encampment and fended off calls for it to be shut down.


atiopatioo 1 year, 6 months ago

Interesting....donates money to the 47% and does not claim all the money for tax dedictons.....

In 2011, the Romneys paid $1,935,708 in taxes on $13,696,951 in mostly investment income. The Romneys’ effective tax rate for 2011 was 14.1%. The Romneys donated $4,020,772 to charity in 2011, amounting to nearly 30% of their income. The Romneys claimed a deduction for $2.25 million of those charitable contributions. The Romneys’ generous charitable donations in 2011 would have significantly reduced their tax obligation for the year. The Romneys thus limited their deduction of charitable contributions to conform to the Governor's statement in August, based upon the January estimate of income, that he paid at least 13% in income taxes in each of the last 10 years.


Kate Rogge 1 year, 6 months ago

I think candidate Romney is so frequently clueless about how to speak, behave, or react in social situations because he is borderline autistic and simply cannot read signals and cannot respond appropriately. An intelligent man, but missing some basic social equipment.


jayhawklawrence 1 year, 6 months ago

Sounds like George Will is already planning an exit strategy so he can save face when his candidate and their party's ship turns into the titanic.

The Obama haters have managed to stir up a lot of hatred in the heartland. That has been their strategy. They have about as much sense as a lynch mob.

This is another reason why it is so very clear that the Republican Party is poison for this country and another reason to understand why they will never tell us what they plan to do if elected. They are betting on their hate strategy which is probably not going to get it done on election day.


bad_dog 1 year, 6 months ago

"And I will not insult your intelligence by claiming to feel your pain, which really is yours."

I guess I'm not too surprised by this apparent disdain of empathy as expressed by a conservative; perhaps suggesting the inability to ever feel empathy.

Nice try at taking a shot at Pres. Clinton, though.


Peter Macfarlane 1 year, 6 months ago

It's even simpler than George describes. Whom do you trust: with your money, with your future, and with your right to live your life as you see fit? Romney wants to give your money to the rich, wants to give big business breaks so they move overseas and leave you with low-paying jobs, wants to tell you how to live your life according to conservative Christian values.


tange 1 year, 6 months ago

Romney should demystify that reality distortion fog he exudes.


Orwell 1 year, 6 months ago

Romney could begin this recommended demystification by telling us which tax exemptions he'd take away, so we can see who would benefit and who would get an added tax burden. So far, he won't trust the voters with that information. Why not?


beatrice 1 year, 6 months ago

Can anyone show me the article in which Will railed against President Bush being considered more likable -- the guy you would want to have a beer with -- over Senator Kerry? Anyone?

Sorry George, but likability is a real issue in politics. Always has been. So, too, is it an issue when a candidate is caught saying he doesn't care about 47% of the population.

One good thing about Romney's 47% comments being disclosed when it was -- it almost made people forget his comments on the situation in Libya.


tolawdjk 1 year, 6 months ago

"I am not running to be your friend, because I hope you pick your friends from among people you actually know and for reasons unrelated to politics. And I will not insult your intelligence by claiming to feel your pain, which really is yours. Neither will I tell you that as president I would pacify distant mobs. I am running just to make government somewhat less destructive, to partially ameliorate the country’s largest afflictions, and to make the world a bit less dangerous. "

Strangely, I agreed with Will on this, right up until this paragraph. I don't want a President to make "the world a bit less dangerous." I want a President to "make America safer than when I take office." It is not in the President's job description to make the world better. He is there to keep American's safe. If by keeping American's safe, it has teh added benefit of taking some danger out of the world, great.

However, we have spent too much of our treasure in making the world less dangerous when we could have spent less and still kept American's safe. The world is not our concern. Let Greeks worry about Greece, let Bolivians worry about Bolivia, and yes, to some extent, let Israelies woory about Israel.

However, and Will touches on this, the Presidency isn't the problem here. Congress is the problem. Why anyone would want to be in that position is beyond me. All that the office serves is to be the scapegoat for the world's and nation's problems. Should anyone in that office manage to do some good, it quickly degenerates into Monday morning quarterbacking on how while the end result may have been successful, the way it was accomplished was completely wrong.


Bob_Keeshan 1 year, 6 months ago

This week's George Will message -- Reagan sucks.


rockchalk1977 1 year, 6 months ago

The Washington Examiner conducted a 4 month investigation into Obama’s past, interviewing dozens of people across the country, and studying countless court transcripts, government reports and other official documents. The picture of Obama that emerges is a portrait of a man quite unlike his image, not a visionary reformer but rather a classic Chicago machine pol who thrives on rewarding himself and his friends with the spoils of public office, and who uses his position to punish his enemies.

Introduction: The Obama you don’t know Chapter I: A childhood of privilege, not hardship Chapter II: The myth of the ‘rock-star professor’ Chapter III: The 1997 speech that launched Obama Chapter IV: Defense attorney for Chicago slumlord Chapter V: Obama’s sells out to the Daley machine Chapter VI: The poor people Obama left behind Chapter VII: Myth of Obama as state reformer Chapter VIII: Using state pensions to help friends Chapter IX: Obama’s Arab-American network Chapter X: Obama brings Chicago politics to Washington

Let's put the adults back in charge this November. Romney-Ryan 2012!


atiopatioo 1 year, 6 months ago

The Presidency should start with the truth about things that worry people the most. For instance global warming.....

NPR failed to mention anywhere in its article that Antarctic sea ice has been growing since satellites first began measuring the ice 33 years ago and the sea ice has been above the 33-year average throughout 2012.

Indeed, none of the mainstream media are covering this important story. A Google News search of the terms Antarctic, sea ice and record turns up not a single article on the Antarctic sea ice record. Amusingly, page after page of Google News results for Antarctic sea ice record show links to news articles breathlessly spreading fear and warning of calamity because Arctic sea ice recently set a 33-year low.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 6 months ago

To distill the words Will wants to put into Romney's mouth down to its essence, "I'm running to be the president of people like me. If you're not a millionaire or a billionaire, I will not be your president."


ThePilgrim 1 year, 6 months ago

‘Is this really the best we can do?’ I ask this every time I see Romney. We have Obama, who is one of the worst presidents in recent history, with a track record that should be easy to use against him (cash for clunkers, GM bailout, stimulus, Obamacare) and the best that we can get is Romney to run (incompetently) against him?


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